Alan Wake review
Wake up and smell the dark eucalypti
While I had a good time with this game, it didn't hit me in the same way a large majority of reviews - both professional(ly stupid) and the users of Gamefaqs - would lead me to believe. Maybe it's that I set myself up for disappointment after reading those reviews and spending $99 on a copy that I just didn't think Alan Wake was the holy grail it was made out to be. Don't get me wrong, it's a good game, but it's not great.
Story: Alan Wake, a best selling author, has been suffering from writer's block for two years, and to try and cure it, he takes his wife known as Alice with him to a small town known as Bright Falls. There, they get a hotel key, but it's not for the room they wanted - it's for a house in the middle of the nearby lake, Cauldron Lake. If only they figured it'd be a bad idea to stay there based on the name, though they thought it was the right key... but they were given this key by a mysterious woman in a black veil. Wouldn't you be suspicious? But hey, we make mistakes, and this one sets Alan on a quest to rescue his wife and find out just what's with the possessed townsfolk otherwise known as The Taken that attacked him the night Alice fell into the lake.
Alan Wake takes a much more subtle approach compared to other games that play out like survival horrors, following a psychological suspense instead of a surprising funhouse scare. The story constantly takes influences from novels written by Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, along with a clever reference to The Twilight Zone, and the trappings are clear, but putting these different influences into an interactive medium really changes things. The way that the story is told, coupled with the many twists throughout, makes Alan Wake one of the most unique narratives ever seen in survival horror video games. While the story tends to lose a bit of momentum in the later chapters, Alan Wake possesses a story that stands tall alongside its influences. From the characters to the twist occurrences throughout, the narrative draws the player in with such finesse that you'll no doubt want to follow Alan's story from beginning to end.
Gameplay: The element of gameplay that stands out is how Alan fights off his enemies. The first order of business is to shine a light on them to remove the darkness. Then you can proceed to shoot them dead. To save the process from becoming stale and repetitive, they bring in some other shiny objects to help you. For instance, flares can really help in getting rid of the dark shields from a group of enemies. In a sense, it feels like Resident Evil 4/5 + flashlight, with the over the shoulder view and the inability to move and shoot at once, though it's not like the enemies are fast and furious - they're a bit on the slow yet deadly side, which fits with the shooting controls presented here.
There may be a lot of ammo and batteries for your guns and flashlight (respectively), but the game still gets to be fairly challenging. The Taken aren't hesitant in taking you out if you aren't focusing on them, and they can take a few shots. Alongside some somewhat cumbersome movement controls, each encounter with them will give you quite a battle, and it'll definitely answer the inevitable "why do we have many ammo and battery crates" question, as horror fans feel that a feeling of helplessness makes the experience more thrilling, though I view this less as a horror game, and more of a horror-esque thriller.
This game definitely has atmosphere down. Every time you're in the forest, which is quite often, you always get the feeling that there's something hiding in the trees, on the treetops, and even underground. You also get that feeling of isolation, like all that stands between horrible monsters and their next meal is you. That's how walking in a forest at night time should feel, only instead of worrying about snakes, you worry about horrible mutants. It even gets it right to the point where when you're not in a forest, you're calm, relaxed and everything, and like a good thriller movie, this is usually during the calmer moments of the game, where you don't have to fear death by monsters. If I was to nitpick, though, I think the darker parts of the game should expand beyond the forest, like a dark cave or an abandoned warehouse. Don't get me wrong - what we got now is excellent, but what could be added on would definitely add variety to the sorts of environments you go through. I mean, the lack of enemy variety is somewhat of a given, and they come at decent times, though since the only tense moments come from one location, it wears itself thin after a while.
As you progress, you find a manuscript for a book Alan doesn't remember writing, which details all of the events unfolding. He reads them out, and to the player, it explains future events and digs deeper into the game's universe, though to him, it's just shit he finds on the floor that seems interesting. Anyway, pieces of the manuscript serve as the main big collectables you can find if you go off the beaten path, or if you just look hard enough.
Unfortunately, it feels like it was just thrown together at the last minute. Like I said, you're running through the same environment, which gets to be quite tiresome after a couple of chapters-- I'm sorry, "episodes", and with six episodes to go through, you'll just have to deal with going through the same forest over and over again. I don't technically like to bitch about the repetition of games - christ, I like sandbox games, and those games aren't exactly brimming with variety - but Alan Wake gets old pretty quickly. Actually, speaking of sandbox, Alan Wake was originally meant to be a sandbox game, however, the developers opted for a more linear approach to focus on deeper storytelling... Man, I wonder how much better of a game this would be if it was a sandbox game with a compelling storyline... It'll happen. Guaranteed.
Controls Shit, this game has some issues. Using the triggers for your flashlight + gun combo seems like rudimentary stuff, but god *bleep*ing dammit, that camera becomes a huge pain in the ass to control in combat, especially when you're dodging, which in itself, is a pain. Seriously, why are the dodge and duck commands mapped to the same button as the run command? Somebody *bleep*ing tell me! Those two problems in sync, put together with the overly clunky movement controls in general, manages to make things worse before they get better. Thankfully, they're not a huge problem, but in the grand scheme of things, this is stuff that will bother you.
Graphics: The atmosphere created through the graphics is the same as with the gameplay - it's excellent. It's dark, and it has that foreboding feeling through the colors, which are used in a way that definitely portrays the feeling... Unfortunately, as the forest is the only tense environment, your eyes will learn to tire of it. The look of Bright Falls during the day gives them a long enough break, and conveys the right light colors and some pretty damn good looking buildings and stuff. Each of the environments are fantastic to look at, but the character models aren't as good as they could've been. The character models alone are nice to look at, but in comparison to the environments, they look a bit dull and pale. Realistic, yes, but that's about it.
Audio: An absolutely epic musical score during the gameplay and cutscenes, along with great sound effects, always sets a perfect mood, as does the game's large collection of licensed songs. Ranging from David Bowie to Poets of the Fall, this stunning audio experience just might make Alan Wake the best sounding horror-esque game I've played to date. The voice acting is also rock solid. Alan Wake is given a lot of charisma and conviction through his voice actor, and the rest manage to get their moments in the sun through excellent delivery of some pretty well written dialogue. Not the best, mind you, but it's still good in my book.
Replay Value: There isn't a whole lot in the replayability section. The game doesn't last too long before throwing it into the nearest bargain bin or second hand store. In 13 hours, you could experience all of the story on the normal and hard difficulty levels, and given some extra time, you could get all the collectibles. The only reason to play through this more than twice is for the achievements, which aren't all that tricky to get in themselves, except a couple (for instance, watch a certain TV).
Overall: Alan Wake is something worth playing through once, but that's it. It has a very strong story and high production values, but the controls and variety in gameplay and environments leave something to be desired. It would be nice if survival horrors could implement the atmosphere and storytelling power that this possesses, and also manage to make the controls more tolerable, but whatever, this is still good enough to eat.
Replay Value: 4/10
About the author
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